The census, conducted by volunteers of the Metro Atlanta Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative on Homelessness, found hundreds of men and women sleeping in storefronts, vacant buildings, under bridges and overpasses, and in ravines and other known habitats.
In 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, the Tri-J area had 6,838 homeless people. Then, volunteers counted 2,378 unsheltered homeless people and 4,460 in shelters.
The new count, conducted between 1 and 4 a.m., focused on the unsheltered homeless who are sleeping in outdoor locations, but it also included the “sheltered” homeless who are staying in emergency facilities and transitional housing programs.
The final figures are expected within a week. Dr. Josie Parker, who directed the count, says they hope the information is good enough to get their HUD grant increased to $12 million, up from $10 million a year ago.
“We feel we got a good count,” she said. “We had wonderful volunteers. Over 300 people turned out throughout all the counties.”
Tri-J also conducts a homeless survey of about 700 people to get data on demographic characteristics, homeless history and homeless experiences.
Parker says what they learn might lead to strategies that help those in need find a better life.
The information gathered will be used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine future funding.
About 100 volunteers worked in DeKalb, where the homeless landscape is different from the city of Atlanta and somewhat of a challenge.
In the Atlanta census, teams found the homeless sleeping on storefronts, behind churches and other buildings.
“In DeKalb they tend to gather at bus stops, under overpasses or down into gullies or dry creek beds,” Parker said.
DeKalb Police and officers from the county’s municipalities accompanied the DeKalb volunteers. Parker said officers are used to watching for the homeless, especially during severe weather.
“Police were instrumental in helping our outreach teams locate them,” Parker said. “We were very grateful to have them.”
Mark Dumas, director of Homeless Outreach for DeKalb County, and his team focused on areas he knows well.
“On Memorial Drive near North Hairston, we found close to 20 people in an encampment behind a fence and down a ravine,” he said. “We found another 20 behind a Shell station on Columbia Drive.”
Dumas said the group didn’t just take data, but approached everyone they met with respect, delivering practical information about services for the homeless.
In return, the team got valuable tips on where to find others who need help.